Blue Collar Work

11/14/2017 09:26 am ET

Six Days On The Road

by Jerry Jasinowski

My home town’s coming in sight,

If you think I’m happy you’re right!

Six days on the road and I’m gonna make it home tonight.

“Six Days On The Road”

“Six Days On The Road” by Sawyer Brown was one of the great trucking songs that became so popular in years gone by that they became a new country music genre. The modern day truck driver became the equivalent of the 19th century cowboy, storied in song and legend.

But the freight industry is beset by a shortage of long-haul truck drivers that is impeding the industry from fulfilling its key role in our busy economy. The pay is good for workers who do not have college degrees. Long-haul truckers make an average of $55,000, a lot more if they work in the oil and gas industry. But the shortage of drivers has become a top concern in the industry. Companies are boosting wages and benefits in an effort to attract more employees.

To be sure, the work is demanding. It is not easy handling a big rig, especially in heavy traffic and inclement weather. It requires extensive training. The hours are long and the work is tedious. It’s not for everyone but it is one traditional labor category that is wide open to virtually anyone with basic education and training.

And it is by no means the only one. Companies serving the growing demand of consumers ordering products online are expanding by leaps and bounds. Many vacant manufacturing plants are being converted into distribution centers. E-commerce operations require three times the amount of warehouse space that brick and mortar stores need. Here too people with limited education and training are finding gainful employment in clean, safe working environments where they earn enough to access middle class living standards.

What we see is the free enterprise economy adapting to changing technology and consumer tastes. And while jobs such as these do not answer the growing demand for people with advanced education and skills, they play a critical role in our economy. Manufacturing depends on long-haul trucking and distribution centers.

I am not recommending these career paths as an alternative to education and advanced training. Today as always, the best jobs go to the people with the best skills. There is a growing emphasis on apprenticeships where new workers are matched with those with more experience who can best convey the practical skills needed to function productively in the increasingly complex modern workplace, especially manufacturing. But it is encouraging to note that the career outlook for people with limited skills is not uniformly bleak.

Jerry Jasinowski, an economist and author, served as President of the National Association of Manufacturers for 14 years and later The Manufacturing Institute. You may quote from this with attribution. November 2017

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